The debate around gun regulations has an unusual dynamic. Supporters of gun regulations make arguments around public health, saving lives and data that shows that limiting access to guns reduces murders and mass killings. Opponents give lip service to opposing these points, but more frequently refer to the Second Amendment, which they interpret to mean that the state cannot pass any laws limiting access to guns. Gun advocates use the Second Amendment not only as a rationale for their views, but as a way so squash any debate on the subject, particularly those grounded in data. Seeing gun advocates cite the Second Amendment in the face of every guard arguments brings up memories of Charlie Brown’s response when confronted with the dismal state of his baseball team.
The typical mass shooter in the US is a heavily armed white man who is angry about something. The specific roots of that anger are not always the same, but in many cases the targets of that anger are Latinos, African Americans, Jews, Muslims, LGBT people or some combination of those groups. These acts of domestic terrorism are increasingly not simply meant to kill random Americans while frightening all of us, but to kill specific groups of Americans while sending a message to members of those groups that we are no longer safe in the US.
While seeing Kasky humiliate Marco Rubio by challenging him to stop taking NRA money or watching Emma Gonzalez similarly embarrass NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch is very encouraging for adults who support gun reform, there is much more to these young people’s message than that. In her most well-known speech, Gonzalez repeated the refrain “we call BS.” While most of that refrain was targeted at the gun lobby and their apologists, it was also aimed at pro-gun reform legislators who have not been aggressive, or successful, enough in their efforts to change American gun policy. Gonzalez, and her generation, are not just calling BS on the NRA, but on those who are cowed by arguments like the one that asserts that none of the proposed laws would have stopped the shooting.
Those who seek to craft policies to address the problem of easy and widespread access to extremely powerful firearms are confidently and dismissively told by legislators who receive generous support from the NRA that those efforts can never lead anywhere due the Second Amendment. This misinterpretation of the Second Amendment is wielded like some kind of magical trump card that can, and frequently does, end any conversation or debate about guns. In democracies, rational policy solutions must be discussed and debated not shouted down by a small minority of the American people hiding behind an extreme interpretation of a sentence written more than 200 years ago. Thus, for several decades now the Second Amendment has been wielded not as a way to guarantee individual freedom, but to make mass shootings easier and ultimately stifle democracy.
Political violence in America has taken many forms, but in contemporary America left wing violence has not been a major problem. The days of the Weather Underground, for example, have now receded into history. State sponsored killing of innocent African Americans, on the other hand, continues to be a major problem. Just last week, we saw this ugly phenomenon once again as, Jeronimo Yanez, the killer of Philando Castile, was acquitted. The word for being concerned about left wing violence but not the killing of innocent African Americans is racism.
The letter was an extraordinary brew of mean-spiritedness, cruelty, insensitivity, arrogance and egotism. The most quoted line from that letter, written by a man singularly incapable of empathy was "your dead kids don't trump my constitutional rights." That line is painful to read and probably makes many people angry with Joe the Plumber. The extraordinary chutzpah required to write something like that to a total stranger who has just lost a child and does not care about your opinion notwithstanding, the worst thing about that line is that it is essentially the official position of the US government.
It is rare that the comments of a state legislator make national news, even more so when those comments are only three short words. Last week, however, State Senator Joshua Miller made national news when he told Dan Bidondi of Infowars to "Go f#ck yourself!" Bidondi, an avid supporter of unrestricted gun ownership had been present at a press conference where Miller and other state legislators appeared. Miller's comments came after Bidondi had been harassing and berating participants at the event.
Miller later apologized for using profanity. However, as more information about this confrontation and about Bidondi comes to light, Miller should probably be lauded for his restraint. Bidondi is associated with the website Infowars, a right-wing site that is given to conspiracy theories questioning, among other things, veracity of the Sandy Hook shooting and the Boston Marathon bombings. Bidondi has sought to represent these views through among other things intimidation and shouting down opponents. Nonetheless, Bidondi has a right to express his views and elected officials, even ones trying to defend constituents from harassment should, on balance, avoid using profanity.
Since these events, and his apology, Miller has faced an unrelenting campaign of thuggery, threats and bigotry. Miller is a small businessman who owns several restaurants in and around Providence. Since he made those comments, Miller's restaurants' web presence have been compromised through floods of negative reviews on sites like Yelp and Trip Advisor and the Facebook pages of his restaurants. Other websites belong to Miller and his campaign have been hacked as well. These are apparently the tactics of the gun supporters who interpret Miller's support of a bill to do things like ban assault weapons and make it illegal to bring guns onto school grounds as undermining the US constitution.
Critics of Miller have also attacked the senator for being too far left. It is not clear that Miller, who chairs the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, would disagree with the substance of this. Miller is a strong supporter of gun regulation, expanding access to healthcare, marriage equality, the environment and labor. Attacks on Miller for his progressive politics are no surprise given how his position on gun regulations and comments to Bidondi undoubtedly infuriated many on the right.
Pointing out that Miller, a strong supporter of gun regulation, has a generally progressive agenda, is an appropriate political strategy in this context. It is unimaginable that this is the first time Miller has been criticized for being a progressive, and it almost certainly will not be the last. Attacking Miller because he is Jewish, however, is not appropriate at this, or any, time. Bigotry of that kind never plays a constructive role in the political discussion, yet Miller's Judaism has drawncomments of a very bigoted and vile nature since the Bidondi incident.
The anti-Semitism Miller has confronted in recent days is disturbing and draws on some of the oldest and vitriolic prejudices against the Jewish people. It is saddening, but not altogether surprising, that his kind of hatred still exists and is so easily aimed at Miller by some on the far right. More upsetting than the noise from these bigots has been the silence from the more moderate and allegedly reasonable factions of the conservative and pro-gun movements. While these people have every reason to condemn Miller for his profanity, his views on gun regulation and his politics generally, they also have a greater obligation to speak out against the bigotry that some have used against Miller. While it is clear that it is not the mainstream of the Republican Party or the gun movement that made Miller's religion an issue, the need to take a position against this kind of thing remains strong. In their silence, too many on gun supporters tacitly condone attacking Miller for being Jewish, rather than his politics. While this may not be the intent, it is, unfortunately, the effect.
Miller's words have led to different interpretations. Opponents of gun regulation have accused Miller of being an arrogant and elitist politician who cares little for the constitution and specifically the second amendment. Miller's supporters, on the other hand, have asserted that the Senator was standing up to a bully who was using aggressive and confrontational methods to try to stifle debate on gun regulation. Although it is possible to disagree about which of these interpretations is right based on the initial incident, the fallout from Miller's comment makes it clear that the forces of intolerance and intimidation are clearly on the side of Bidondi, as Miller's opponents have resorted to hacking websites, dishonest and negative reviews of decent small businesses, and bigotry to make their point. I don't get to Rhode Island much, but the next time I do, I know whose restaurants I'll be patronizing.